A jury in the United Kingdom acquitted a pair of climate activists—including a co-founder of the Extinction Rebellion movement—of vandalism charges Thursday after they defended their acts of civil disobedience as a proportionate response to the threats posed by the global climate crisis.
Jurors at Southwark Crown Court in London unanimously cleared 25-year-old David Durant and 52-year-old Roger Hallam, the Extinction Rebellion co-founder, of all charges that stemmed from their efforts as part of an ultimately successful campaign to pressure King's College London to divest millions of dollars from fossil fuels.
BREAKING: Jury at Southwark Crown Court finds climate protestors NOT GUILTY of criminal damage.
Roger Hallam and Dave Durant admitted causing the damage but argued it was a proportionate response to the climate crisis.
Huge moment for justice! Huge moment for life!
— Plan B Earth (@PlanB_earth) May 9, 2019
On Jan. 19, 2017, Hallam wrote "divest from oil and gas" in water-soluble chalk-based spray paint on the university's property. Hallam and Durant were arrested days later, on February 1, for spray painting the walls of the university's Great Hall.
"We are extremely grateful to the jury for following common sense," Hallam said outside court Thursday, according to The Guardian. "Ordinary people, unlike the judiciary, are able to see the broader picture."
Durant called the charge of criminal damage he faced "ridiculous," adding that "chalk on the wall is obviously less important than the impending catastrophe for the planet."
“Chalk on the wall is obviously less important than the impending catastrophe for the planet.”, Roger Hallam, #ExtinctionRebellion.
— Extinction Rebellion (@ExtinctionR) May 10, 2019
Hallam and Durant—who represented themselves at the three-day trial—did not deny the damage to the university, which reportedly spent £7,000 ($9,105) to wash away the paint. Instead, the defendants focused on their motivations for the actions, presenting a "necessity defense" under the U.K.'s Criminal Damage Act—despite Judge Michael Gledhill claiming multiple times that the climate crisis was "irrelevant" to the case.
"We were shut down quite a lot," Durant told Climate Liability News. "We'd try to read out case law and we were shut down."
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While the prosecution showed video footage of the spray paint campaign to the jury, Hallam and Durant shared their motivations for the actions.
As The Guardian reported:
In a video shown to the jury, Hallam said: "This is not about polar bears, this is about mass starvation. It is a total emergency, if we do not take drastic action, our civilization will soon collapse."
In a second video shown to the jury, Durant can be heard saying: "You guys seem very concerned about the fact that we're potentially damaging your building but not by the fact that King's is damaging the planet."
"That was really handy," Durant said of the videos. "That was making the case for us."
We filmed the first reactions from @ExtinctionR's Roger Hallam & Dave Durant outside court, following their not-guilty verdict delivered by a jury yesterday, for their part in a divestment protest. Despite the judge directing otherwise, the jury went against him #ClimateCrisis pic.twitter.com/Cyo1jEPo7b
— Real Media (@RealMediaGB) May 10, 2019
"This comes just after we've had Extinction Rebellion in London, so members of the jury will have been conscious of all of that," Crosland added. "It's a test of public opinion and how a randomly selected sample of the population have responded to this."
Since U.K. climate activists launched Extinction Rebellion last year, the group has spread to dozens of countries. Throughout April, they organized marches, demonstrations, and peaceful civil disobedience to demand from elected officials bolder policies to curb planet-warming emissions—and garnered widespread support, particularly among the British public.
Under pressure from the wave of activism, the U.K. Parliament made history on May 1 by declaring a climate and environment emergency, just days after similar moves by the Welsh and Scottish governments. On Thursday, Ireland followed suit.
"Climate emergency is not some abstract concept," Hallam, an organic farmer, told Real Media in a video interview published this week.
"Just over a decade ago there was a series of extreme weather events which destroyed my business and led to 25 people losing their jobs," he said. "Millions of farmers around the world are under extreme economic pressure due to the climate change catastrophe that is now unfolding."